Disaster Response

Pacific NW, Calif. public power utilities work to restore power

Public power utilities in the Pacific Northwest and California were battered by a series of significant snow storms in recent weeks but they have been able to effectively respond to resulting power outages and, in some instances, mutual aid has come into play.

Much of the Pacific Northwest has been hit by several rounds of snow storms in February. “Seattle's metro area has already been hit by three snowstorms in February, making it the snowiest month in Seattle in more than 50 years,” Accuweather noted in a Feb. 13 post.

Parts of California have also been hit hard. A system known as Winter Storm Nadia the Pacific Northwest and Northern California delivered heavy snow and rain Feb. 13, “causing multiple crashes and road closures, leaving tens of thousands without power,” the Weather Channel said.

Washington State

Clark Public Utilities

Washington State’s Clark Public Utilities recently responded to a request for assistance from Peninsula Light Co., a Gig Harbor, Washington State-based electric cooperative.

“We got a call from Peninsula Light Co. a couple days ago, saying they hadn’t seen a storm like this in years and were desperate for help,” said Clark Public Utilities Transmission and Distribution Manager Ben Feliz. “After making sure all of our bases were covered, we sent a line crew up to help them get the power on.”

Clark Public Utilities, which is based in Clark County, Washington, sent a four-person crew up to the Gig Harbor area following the massive drop of snow in that area.

Foreman Kent Sarkinen, Journeyman Lineman Larry Jones and Jaylon Muonio and New Construction Inspector Zack Muonio drove up Monday night and have spent their time trudging through the snow and clearing fallen trees in order to suspend downed lines, Clark Public Utilities noted.

“They were dealing with five spans of pretty large conductor feed in a heavily treed area,” Feliz said. “It’s not been easy.”

Peninsula Light is just one of several utilities that Clark Public Utilities works with under a mutual aid agreement.

Erica Erland, corporate communications manager at Clark Public Utilities, noted that the Washington PUD Association mutual aid agreement is between 23 PUDs in the state, divided into East Side and West Side utilities.

The participants agree to provide assistance to each other when resources can be made available and is intended to apply to emergency situations. Designated East Side and West Side coordinators receive requests, determine when crews can be transferred between utilities and monitor the assignment and location of crews.

Erland noted that on Saturday morning, Feb. 9, Clark County did get some snow and in those morning hours Clark Public Utilities had about 2,300 customers without power in scattered outages across the county. Most were restored by the late afternoon and crews were able to stay ahead of any subsequent outages. The weather warmed fairly soon after that and there were no other major accumulations of snow or ice that impacted the system in a dramatic way, she said.

Snohomish County PUD

Aaron Swaney, spokesperson for Snohomish County PUD, said that starting Monday, Feb. 11, around 10 a.m. until about Tuesday evening, the PUD had a total of 50,000 outages. “It was a lot of one step forward, one step back as we’d get customers back up and then another set would lose power,” he said in an email.

All customers were restored the morning of Feb. 14, Swaney said, adding that no mutual aid crews were called in during this storm.

Mason County PUD 3

Meanwhile, Mason County PUD 3 tweeted on Feb. 13: “Thanks to hard work, we cut the number of customers without power from 9,000 on Monday, to 601 tonight. A mutual aid agreement with Mason PUD 1 allows us to use two of their line crews to help. A benefit of living in a public power community #communitypowered #pud3promise.”

Grays Harbor PUD

Ian Cope, a spokesman for Grays Harbor PUD, said that while the PUD experienced outages as a result of the recent snow storms, “I would not describe most of them as significant.”

All told the PUD had about 20 outages in the storm period for a number of issues, some weather related, some not, he noted. 

Grays Harbor on Feb. 14 sent two crews to Lewis County to assist their utility with restoration, Cole noted. 

Seattle City Light

During the recent snow storms, public power utility Seattle City Light experienced outages related to snow weighing down tree branches and with the first storm, strong winds, noted Seattle City Light spokesperson Scott Thomsen on Feb. 14.

Many of those branches broke and fell into power lines and in some instances, entire trees were toppled.

He said that Monday night brought a new twist. As the snow was transitioning to rain, crews saw the soggy snow being shed from the trees. As that happened, those heavy loaded branches would spring back up and in some instances were knocking into power lines from below, causing new short circuits and damage, Thomsen said in an email.

With the system coming in Monday, Seattle City Light experienced a peak of 39,000 customers impacted; the total customers impacted over Monday night was approximately 43,000. Crews worked through the night to respond to every outage despite significant snow fall and rain, noted Seattle City Light spokesperson Julie Moore.

By noon Tuesday, the outages were reduced to approximately 5,000 customers, and by noon Wednesday, fewer than 50 customers were experiencing an outage -- this included a combination of storm-related and non-storm-related outages. 

Moore said that all storm affected customers were back in-service Wednesday. “We were prepared with contingency plans in case these outages were more widespread,” she said in an email.

“The unique challenges for our crews were working on restorations while snow was still coming down, but more so navigating streets that were treacherous to drive on, especially non-arterials,” Thomsen noted. This slowed their ability to get from one job to the next.

He said that customers were great about supporting the crews who were working in the elements and understanding about why it was taking them longer to move around.

Seattle City Light did not call in mutual aid and Thomsen said he was not aware of any request for mutual aid from another utility.

California

In California, the public power city of Redding received the most snow it has seen in 50 years, the Redding Record Searchlight reported on Feb. 13.

Redding Electric Utility (REU) on Feb. 13 reported on its Twitter account that it had multiple outages due to snow and fallen trees.

That same day REU, a public power utility in northern California with about 44,000 meters and a peak demand of 241 megawatts, reported having multiple lines down due to the snow. “Our power plant has tripped off line. We are working hard to systematically remove fallen trees and make repairs. We believe that half of our 45,000 customers may be without power,” REU said in a Feb. 13 tweet.

“We are requesting mutual aid from our #PublicPower friends who helped us during the #StrongerThanCarr Fire. There is major damage to our system,” REU said in another Feb. 13 tweet. The Carr Fire directly affected REU.

In the wake of the plea for mutual aid, REU subsequently provided an update on power restoration efforts and said that mutual aid crews were working with local crews to investigate outage reports and help get feeders up and running.

In a Feb. 15 tweet, REU said that crews along with those from six other publicly-owned utilities "have worked deep into the evening to restore power. As of 10:00 tonight the number of customers out of power has been reduced to approximately 850 (less than 2%)."

Pineapple Express hits West Coast

Meanwhile, a weather event known as a “Pineapple Express” hit the West Coast on Feb. 14, bringing “heavy rain, snow, wind and flooding to the West Coast over the next few days,” CNN reported on Feb. 15. “More than 30 million people are under flood or flash flood watches from California to Arizona, including in San Francisco, Los Angeles and San Diego,” CNN reported.

The American Public Power Association in 2018 held a public power mutual aid exercise in which participants role played a scenario that involved significant flooding in several California cities. Representatives from more than 30 public power utilities and joint action and state associations participated in the Association’s Mutual Aid Working Group national event, which was held in Los Angeles.

The Los Angeles Department of Water and Power served as the host for the exercise and provided significant logistical support. The exercise was funded by a cooperative agreement with the Department of Energy.

The scenario involved an atmospheric river event in California. The resulting rains flooded much of the central valley including the cities of Sacramento, Stockton, and Modesto. In addition, the Los Angeles area suffered damage from 200 to 500-year flooding levels and windstorms. The scenario was based on data from 1862 and the “Pineapple Express” rain event, which flooded California.

Additional information about the Association’s mutual aid resources is available on the Association’s website here.